Exceptional times demand exceptional leadership and, make no mistake about it, these are unprecedented times. Our world is more joined up and interdependent than it has ever been before. Information spreads at digital speed and no economy is immune or unaffected by the force, velocity or impact that negative news can have. The economic landscape has changed beyond recognition and the weak have been found out while the winners have managed to weather the storm. Some have even managed to thrive.
If in the past a good management team and a strong brand were good enough to 'get by'; in this new world these strengths alone are no longer enough. By management I mean strategy, plans, process, procedure, tasks, execution and key performance indicators.
Management is still essential, especially in the public sector, but everybody practices management now and it is readily available to all. Each and every aspect of management has become commoditised and everybody has similar access and is subsequently playing by similar rules. The rules of engagement have changed and something has to give.
Back to the future
If you cast your mind back 30 years, the way some of the truly great corporations conducted business was very different from today. In sharp contrast to the current unforgiving and unrelenting business environment, the likes of Unilever, Marks & Spencer and Shell quietly and effectively built up 'academy' businesses that proved the bedrock to their unparalleled success. These businesses were 'values-led'.
In the 1990s, the majority of big corporations swapped values for performance and with it came the rise of short-termism, league tables, quarterly bonuses, targets and trends. Employees were dehumanised into payroll numbers, averages and extrapolations as work became a numbers game.
But Generation Y is not the same as my generation. In the court of public opinion, organisations that are solely performance-driven have had their day.
So perhaps a glance backwards could also provide a glimpse into the future.
The 'academy' business model was a career, not a job. These were the institutions that your parents wanted you to join; great training, ongoing personal development, movement across the business, positive role models, visible leaders and perks that extended way beyond your salary.
The business made sure you felt cared for, valued and protected. And in return this created a 'passion' brand. Working for one of these businesses meant something significant – they set you up for life and in return got healthy, loyal and productive staff, who became ambassadors and advocates.
Any large corporation or public body must now mesh global markets or national problems with local knowledge and operations and vice versa. The leadership must be open to new ideas, tactics and technologies. It is essential they ask their people what they think and importantly act on the great initiatives.
Yet so many large organisations are no longer one seamless entity but a group of rock solid stand-alone functions with little, if any, synergies or common goals and usually with a powerful baron or warlord at the helm of each 'silo'. This must stop.
Brave new world
In the 'new world' the leadership must encourage information sharing and innovation in a continual process of being aligned and integrated. They must value ethical behaviour, integrity and fair play. At the same time, the leadership must be irreverent about hierarchy and office politics; tolerating, even enjoying, those who dare to bend the rules but be unaccepting of those who break the ethics.
They should reward those who work smartly, produce high-quality products and services, but the watch word is simplification not added complexity. In short, organisations should recognise those who thrive on new challenges with personalised recognition, continuous development and a good living.
The challenge now is to make public bodies feel small, even though they are relatively big. The big benefits are a shared vision, true engagement with both customers and employees and no wasted effort on internecine battles. It is time to stop putting the stifling checks and procedures in place to make everything an industrial-strength process. Let go and trust your people.
It's a leadership thing
Once again it comes back to that 'leadership' word. If management is the hardware then leadership is the software. By leadership I mean vision, people, teams, culture; it is how you inspire your people towards your vision and naturally create more leaders for the organisation, in a virtuous circle that means the best of the best talent continues to be drawn towards the business. It needs everyone to embrace the customer instead of protecting the product.
In short, it is time to rip up the old rule book and throw away much of what you have known before; progressive organisations of the future need to be both performance-driven and values-led. Now, more than ever, is the time to step up so that we can prepare for the upturn.
René Carayol is CEO of the Inspired Leaders Network, with operations in London, Belfast, Accra and Johannesburg. He specialises in leadership and culture.